Blackwell Addresses LB Concerns

SUNSET – What was one of the strongest aspects of the defense in 2004 begins this preseason with several questions, primarily who's going to replace Leroy Hill at middle linebacker and whether or not any freshmen will get playing time at any linebacker spot.

As it stands now, Tramaine Billie is first on the depth chart at the strong linebacker position, while Nick Watkins holds down the weak linebacker spot. In the middle, Anthony Waters and Lionel Richardson are listed equally on the depth chart.

Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said he also expects a freshman or two to contribute immediately as well at linebacker.

"Leroy was an outstanding football player," linebackers coach David Blackwell said following Tommy Bowden's annual media golf tournament at The Reserve.

"I wish we had him back. There ain't a doubt about that. But we don't and you move on to the next guy. You find the next best guy and go with it. They will get better as they go. One thing about college football, you know they're on borrowed time. They're not there forever. You shift and adjust and if in fact we are a good program and a good team, you find a way to replace good players."

The major problem with the linebackers is even though they are all believed to have tons and tons of potential they don't have a lot of experience. Waters started all 11 games last season, Billie six of the 11 and that's about it.

"You've got a lot of unproven guys as far as starters," Blackwell said. "Anthony started a bunch of games last year, Tramaine started some games at linebacker and aside from that you've got to find another starter. But from a depth standpoint, you're going to play two-deep. And usually you're going to play more than two deep at that position just because of injuries. It's very rare to go through the season without any injuries at that position because it's a physical position.

"So for three positions, you're going to have to find eight guys that can play. And right now we don't have eight that can play. Hopefully one of those freshmen will come in and compete for one of those spots."

However, one bright spot is the installment of a new defensive scheme, as odd as that may sound. From the outside it would seem like it would make it more difficult on the coaching staff because at least the young players were familiar with the old defense.

"The fact that it's a new defense bodes well for young guys because they're not dead set in the old defense, so it made the transition a little bit easier," Blackwell said. "And honestly, it was a fun spring to coach a lot of new players. Sometimes it's fun to coach young guys."

Switching gears entirely, it appears early on that Clemson is on pace to meet or surpass last year's strong recruiting class.

And Blackwell, who head's the Tigers' recruiting efforts as the recruiting coordinator, said that is no accident.

"We've been able to start fairly fast in recruiting just like we were able to do last year," he said. "A lot of that goes into the fact that we were able to beat some pretty big named opponents; we've also got a head coach that wants to stay at Clemson and an administration that wants him to stay at Clemson; we've got some new facilities going up and we've got coaches that have being recruiting the same area for several years."

With all of those pieces firmly in place, the foundation has already been set to bring in another nationally ranked recruiting class this year, and just as important, in the years to come.

"What happens with that is you're able to get on guys younger. Whenever a coach is in a new area, he's just worried about finding out who the seniors are. He's not worried about sophomores or freshmen or juniors. The longer you leave a guy there, the more he can develop a relationship with the coaches and he's visible to the young players."

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